Sustainability

This “Climate Clock” Is Counting Down Until The Planet Is Irreversibly Damaged

The clock is counting down the years, days, hours, minutes and seconds until Earth’s “carbon budget” is depleted.

A massive digital clock in New York City has been temporarily reworked to remind all who view it that the world is running out of time to fix the climate crisis. 

For more than 20 years, the Metronome, a 15-digit digital clock in NYC’s Union Square, counted the hours, minutes, seconds, and fractions of seconds to and from midnight. But this weekend, it was reprogrammed as a countdown clock with an eerie global deadline: the amount of time left before the climate crisis irreversibly alters the planet.

When The Climate Clock was unveiled Saturday by artists Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd, it displayed that there were seven years, 103 days, 15 hours, 40 minutes and 7 seconds left until Earth’s “carbon budget” is depleted.

The clock is counting down the years, days, hours, minutes, and seconds that people around the world have to curb greenhouse gas emissions and keep global warming from increasing by 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 34.7 degrees Farenheit over pre-industrial levels, according to the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change in Berlin. 

It displays two numbers: one is the countdown figure, while the other tracks the percentage of available energy being created from renewable sources. 

“Simply put, we need to get our lifeline to 100% before our deadline reaches 0,” the clock’s website states.

If the Earth’s temperature increases by 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, NASA warned in a 2019 report that the planet will experience extreme heat waves, fires, droughts, and a reduction in water availability. As a record number of acres burned on the West Coast this summer, many officials have pointed to the climate crisis as a central cause. 

The central goal of the Paris Climate Agreement, which President Trump moved to withdraw the U.S. from, is to “to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

According to a New York Times report, the clock will be displayed in Union Square through Sept. 27, which is the end of Climate Week. But Golan and Boyd are reportedly hoping to arrange for it to be permanently displayed there or at another location. On their website, they also encourage others to make their own climate clock, which they say can be made with several inexpensive electronics.  

Clarification: An earlier version of this story said the clock counted down to a date when the earth would warm by 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 34.7 degrees Fahrenheit. While those figures are equal in temperature, the equivalent of a rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius is 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit.